ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The man who reportedly shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and four other people Wednesday morning at a GOP congressional baseball practice went to the nearby YMCA early in the morning multiple days a week for four weeks before the shooting, according to one witness.
Laura Russell, who lives in Alexandria, told TheBlaze Wednesday afternoon that she saw the suspected shooter, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, at the YMCA on multiple occasions over the last four weeks. Russell's account matches what law enforcement officials said just hours into the shooting investigation, which was that Hodgkinson has been staying in the Washington, D.C., area for about two months.
Russell said that when the first gunshot rang out Wednesday morning she had just finished working out at the gym inside the YMCA — about 30 feet away from the baseball field where Scalise and more than two dozen other Republican members of Congress were practicing for the congressional baseball game.
Russell said she walked out of the building and into the parking lot — and that's when she said she "heard this pop or boom."
Russell said she looked out toward the baseball field, where it sounded like the noise was coming from. She recalled seeing the person at home plate drop to the ground. She didn't know at the time if the person who dropped to the ground had been shot or was just taking cover.
Russell didn't feel like sticking around to find out. She said she immediately took off running through an alley to where she lives, just only a few blocks away. Russell said she that had no idea where the shooter was while she was running but that she felt safe since the alley obstructed the view from the field.
By the time Russell got home, she said she heard at least 30 gunshots. Other witnesses said there were as many as 50 to 60 gunshots.
Russell said she called 911 when she got home, only to find that the line was busy. She immediately began plotting escape routes, in case the shooter had followed her home. The only other way out of the multi-unit apartment building besides the main door, though, was through the basement, and Russell lives on the second floor. For that reason, Russell said she just didn't feel safe — even inside her own home.
She went back outside where she spoke with someone else who happened to be walking by. The passerby told her the shooter was dead, so she walked back over to the park to offer police a witness statement. It was around that time that she first saw a photo of the shooter.
"It was a guy from the YMCA that I saw like everyday," Russell said.
"He would come in there super early. He had a laptop. I don't know, maybe he came for the WiFi," Russell added.
Russell said that she saw Hodgkinson there "multiple days a week" for "four weeks." Each time she saw him, she said he appeared "friendly, happy, not weird." Russell never talked to him at length but did offer a "hello, how's it going, a smile."
Russell said it was "bizarre" and "really weird" that she never saw Hodgkinson work out. Although, she added, there are parents who sometimes bring things to work on while their children finish their classes.
"It just seemed like he had his little routine. He had his little bag," Russell told TheBlaze.
According to the Washington Post, former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille did see Hodgkinson work out occasionally. In the mornings, Hodgkinson would work out and shower at the YMCA gym and then spend all day on his laptop and reading on his phone.
The Post reported that Euille said Hodgkinson lived out of the bag he was carrying ever since he arrived in the area nearly two months ago.
Hodgkinson's motive for opening fire on multiple Republican lawmakers was not immediately confirmed by police. However, the Facebook page that was believed to be that of Hodgkinson contains anti-Trump messages. Hodgkinson also volunteered for the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Capitol Police officers returned fire on Hodgkinson. Hodgkinson later died from his gunshot wounds.